Disclaimer: None of these characters are ours. We stole them. Shamelessly. All of them.
And now for the final chapter of CALLING ALL CONTESTANTS!
Chapter 16: Resolutions
Perspiration beaded on the young warlock's brow as he concentrated on controlling the magic within the game arena. He had just saved Gwaihir from Loki's deadly blast at the cost of destroying most of the arena's landscape he had created two days back, but it had been necessary.
Voices swirled around him, male and female, young and old, but Merlin blocked them all out. He had to remain entirely focused as the words flowed from his mouth. His eyes stung.
He was kneeling on the rubble dusted table, each hand held inside the circular display screen that hung suspended just past the new edge of the wrecked Viewing Pavilion. In order to manipulate the magic within the game, Merlin needed to be in direct contact with the new world, and while he had been able to revert some aspects of the death rule (for instance, the allowance that the first four people to die in the game would instead be transported back to Rivendell—a thoughtful Robin, grumpy Merida, and bewildered Hawkeye were living proof to the change he'd made), there was little else he could do while Loki possessed the power of the staff. It was as if the magic would only answer to one party at a time.
And unfortunately, Merlin was not that party.
"Can you help him defeat Loki?" Lord Elrond asked in strained concern as he watched Legolas spar with the god of mischief, the mortal wound slowly draining him of all strength.
Merlin shook his head sharply, keeping his reply as short as possible. "Still has the staff."
"You were able to conjure some magic before. Can you do so again?"
"Not enough map left. Might be able to get them all back if Legolas gets the staff but-"
At that moment Legolas was kicked to the ground, and a collective gasp (and a few choice words from Gimli) filled the area. Everyone watched in horror as Loki circled his prey. They heard each word and no one, not even Thor, could help being filled with revulsion for the green and gold clad figure who mocked the perishing elf.
"Will the girls make it?" Captain Rogers questioned in a hushed tone.
"I don't know," Merlin replied softly. He had relaxed his concentration when he saw Legolas go down. Any chance of the elf retrieving the staff was gone. "Loki may be able to transport himself over to team two's starting position before they arrive. I'm not sure. His magic is quite powerful."
"Loki will finish the job before he goes after them," Hawkeye said in frustration that stemmed from how easily he had died in the arena. "It's a good thing one more can die and still make it back here alive."
"He's not dead yet," Natasha murmured.
Silence fell and no one moved as Loki grinned and charged toward the vulnerable elf with this staff raised for the killing blow.
But then the tables turned. Seemingly in the blink of an eye, Legolas was standing over the god of mischief—and the staff had turned and was embedded in Loki's chest!
Caught by surprise, it took a few seconds for Merlin to react. Closing his eyes, he instinctively reached out to the scepter's blue magic in an attempt to regulate it, bring it under his control and use it for his own purposes in order to transport all of the contestants back to Rivendell.
But the magic refused to be taken so easily, and Merlin cried out in horror as he realized what he had just done. As Legolas was tossed aside by the explosion, so also was Merlin pitched backwards into the crowd of competitors and companions intently watching the scene below unfold. Fortunately, many bodies halted his momentum and ready hands helped him back up.
"No!" Merlin shouted as the blue display screen shivered and revealed the form of Loki—Loki, who had just been killed by his own staff.
The stunned god of mischief stumbled forward, disoriented, and was quickly pounced upon by Thor and Gimli and restrained with a handy bit of rope Merlin had enchanted to theoretically prevent Loki from using magic (the young warlock was uncertain of how much power Loki truly possessed). Thor also searched his brother, producing the four rings on a chain and handing them over to Lord Elrond.
The young warlock looked back into the arena. The girls were almost to the starting position. Legolas lay broken and bleeding in the clearing.
Merlin swallowed. Four people had died in the arena (Loki counted—he was a villain, but he counted!). Legolas was going to die.
"You must to do something," Elrond said urgently.
"I can't," Merlin whispered in dread. He hastily immersed his hands back into the viewing orb, trying desperately to manage the magic within.
"He's out of time, kid!" Stark yelled.
"I can't do anything!" Merlin yelled back, failure clawing its way up his throat. His thoughts were scattered everywhere, and he felt the magic slip through his fingers. He tried to manipulate the death rule, but the words he needed refused to come to mind, instead prancing around on the tip of his tongue just out of reach.
"He's not gonna make it," Hawkeye stated simply. Gwaihir had just landed, Susan and Katniss were sprinting to the starting post.
"No!" Loki rasped, grasping the situation and capturing everyone's attention. "—wasn't supposed to be like this. Nobody's supposed to die!"
"This is your fault!" Gimli growled. "Your fault. If he dies, his death will be upon your head."
"What do you mean nobody was supposed to die?" Elrond asked coldly.
Loki grimaced and said, "I allowed Merlin to change the death rule. They were not to be harmed—only made to believe they could die. But then, I wasn't counting on you using the staff against me. He was to die and be returned here, and then it would be over!"
Merlin groaned and gritted his teeth. He cursed this foreign magic and Loki's meddling and wished things didn't have to always be so complicated.
"Bring him back," Loki said.
Merlin gave him a weary look.
"You must let it flow through you," the god of mischief repeated. "Bring him here in time and he will not die."
Other voices urged him to do so, but Merlin shook his head. His limbs were stiff, his head was pounding, he could hardly think.
"I can't!" he shouted. "I just can't!"
The voices stopped. A weathered hand rested on his shoulder and squeezed slightly.
"I know you can do this, Merlin," said the voice of his mentor, Gaius. "I believe in you."
Taking a deep breath, Merlin gathered all of his thoughts together and concentrated on the dying elf. His eyes blazed a brilliant gold—he had full control of the magic, felt Loki's eyes fixed on him, willing him to succeed (because the man obviously didn't want the dwarf holding a blood-feud against him).
"Bring him back," whispered Merida, putting her hand into Merlin's. There were tears in her eyes. "Bring him back."
He reached into the game and felt the elf. So weak—his heart struggled just to beat one more time. Merlin felt rather than saw Legolas's chest fall with his final breath.
And then he was gone.
It was only then that Merlin felt a spike in the magic of the staff. Reaching deep into the game with his mind, the young warlock pulled the elf prince out of the arena and onto the rubble strewn Viewing Pavilion. There were no visible injuries (some other nuance of the game, he supposed), but dead. He bent over the body of the elf, whispering frantic words while those crowded around him watched anxiously.
Nothing happened. Nothing happened—he was gone.
Just as he was about to burst into tears (it had been a very, very long three days), he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Try this," Gaius offered, pressing a large pill (that looked like it had been coated in chocolate) into Merlin's hand. "It was a gift from an old friend of mine. I'd quite forgotten about it until I discovered it while rummaging through one of the satchels the hobbits were so kind enough to bring along."
Merlin opened the elf's mouth and placed it inside (after all, what had he to lose from trying it? He was too weary to argue with Gaius). A few seconds passed and still nothing happened. A tear dripped down Merida's face.
And then, so suddenly that everyone jumped in surprise, Legolas sat bolt upright.
"I'll shoot you between the eyes! I'll strike off your heads with a knife!" the elf blurted out to the astonished individuals around him.
"You're back!" Merlin exclaimed in relief, a broad grin breaking out across his face. Gaius clapped the young man on the back and gave him one of those rare "I'm so proud of you" smiles.
"Why can't I feel my legs and arms?" Legolas demanded, more than a little rattled.
"Ah," Gaius said a bit of uneasily as his smile fell. "From what I understand, it may take some time for you to recover fully after being mostly dead. But I promise you will recover fully...you're not planning on swimming for at least an hour, are you?"
Legolas was about to reply when the overjoyed tones of a certain dwarf interrupted him. He felt a hearty slap on his back and doubled over from the exuberance of his companion. The crowd of people had pushed Gimli back (it just wasn't fair being a dwarf—he was even shorter than that red-headed princess!) and he hadn't actually witnessed the elf's death, nor had realized that Merlin had just revived him. In fact, it was Legolas's voice that had caused him to forget being polite and push through the crowd.
"I knew you would make it, Laddie," Gimli cheered with enthusiasm. "I knew you would defeat that muck-infested excuse for a god."
Nobody noticed that a certain muck-infested excuse for a god was looking mightily relieved that the elf hadn't actually died.
Hawkeye and Captain Rogers took it upon themselves to help the poor elf up into a cracked but still usable chair (Gimli was a bit too short for the task and he had many questions for the elf about what happened). As Legolas sat down, there was a bright flash of light, and a bedraggled Susan and a wide-eyed Katniss suddenly appeared. The triumphant cry of an eagle split the air as Gwaihir sped straight into the air, flipped around, and made his way back to his perch in the Misty Mountains. The viewing bubble vanished.
And that was game over.
"Susan!" Robin Hood cried out when he saw his beloved. And then frowned. Dying twice seemed to have gotten his mind working again, for abruptly Marian appeared in his mind and he Remembered.
"We did it," Susan breathed, hugging a surprised Katniss before gazing around in wonder at the wrecked area crowded with so many relieved faces. Merida pushed her way through and nearly tackled the queen, and Susan hugged her back with not a few tears (after all, she had thought the princess dead).
Clapping and cheering spread through the crowd (no one really knew who started it). Companions and competitors mingled together once more, and all tension seemed to melt away from the previous dramatic situations from a few moments before. Jokes were exchanged with laughter, hugs, and back slaps while smiles flashed as brightly as mirrors reflecting the light of the sinking sun.
Katniss felt a rush of elation as she realized they had won, and she was still alive (as was everyone else). The elation died and was replaced with mortification when she saw Merida, Robin Hood, and Hawkeye, but that feeling was replaced with deep anger when she caught sight of a rather glum looking Loki.
"You," was all she got out before being smothered by Haymitch (who was completely sober for once but still reeked of strong spirits).
"Let it go, Katniss," he advised her, keeping a firm grip around her shoulders. "He'll be dealt with accordingly, from what I hear."
"Indeed he shall," Lord Elrond said, his authoritative words quieting the crowd while his grey eyes pierced through Loki's green ones. Loki had been content to remain quiet upon his capture, whether out of surprise that he had lost or in hopes they would forget his presence.
He had certainly not been forgotten. Elrond beckoned everyone to follow him into a different courtyard—one that hadn't been smashed into bits by Bruce Banner on a rampage. This room had once been a hall of tales, music, and poetry. Stone had been carved into semicircular, descending rings that provided much space for seating while a small dais was at the bottom of the room.
After a small break (everybody was awfully hungry and thirsty and needed a moment to recover) they reconvened.
"Let Loki be brought forward," Elrond began.
Everyone but the last four arriving contestants had deliberated over this before the end of the game—whether they had the right to judge and sentence Loki, and if so, who should judge and sentence him, for everyone felt confident Loki would be stopped. It was finally decided that Elrond and Thor would be the ones to decide—Elrond because it was his realm and those under his protection who had been harmed, and Thor because Loki was his brother (and he still held a look of concern in his eyes for the dark-haired villain).
Gimli eagerly shoved Loki forward and sent him tipping up the dais stair, ignoring Thor's disapproving look. Loki thrust out his chin and glared at everyone gathered in the courtyard with open defiance as he faced them. The setting sun lay behind his challengers and shone brightly in his eyes through the many columns at the top of the chamber. Beorn stood guard nearby the dais. Thor and Elrond stood apart from the crowd before the accused while everyone else sat.
"You will be judged here today for the crimes you have committed while here in Rivendell and the arena of the third challenge," Elrond said solemnly.
"An' then, I think I'll execute the judgment myself," Gimli declared gruffly, hefting his axe.
Thor gave a thunderous look to the dwarf which kept him from coming any closer to the dark-haired Asgardian.
"If anyone dares to harm my brother, he will have a taste of my hammer," Thor warned.
Gimli's face grew a fierce scowl, and several voices rose in protest and disbelief at Thor's eagerness to protect someone as vile as Loki. The god of mischief snorted in scorn of Thor's loyalty. Chaos was beginning to settle upon the Viewing Pavilion.
"Silence!" Elrond ordered sternly, turning to face the group. "No one will cause harm to the accused or threaten him otherwise. This is a hearing, not an execution."
"What are we waitin' for?" Gimli demanded angrily. "He tried to kill all of the contestants by pittin' them against each other like goblins and orcs while attemptin' to murderous with those spiders and the green monster. Why don' we kill 'im?"
"I agree," Katniss spoke out strongly. She stared at Loki with open hatred. "I say we end this here and now."
"I say you will not harm him while I stand," Thor said firmly.
"We cannot simply murder him," Queen Susan agreed. She desired no further bloodshed.
"I'm thinking an electric chair would do the job," Stark suggested nonchalantly. He glanced over at Banner (who was once more normal size and wearing whatever garments Merlin had managed to scrounge up for him). "You up to helping me build one?"
Banner raised his hands in a motion of denial. "I kind of met my violence quota for the day."
"You can't just let him live!" Katniss protested.
Before Elrond could once again silence the arguing voices, a low chuckle echoed all around them, the resonance of the hall was truly astounding.
"What are you laughing at?" demanded Katniss, her eyes glittering with malicious intent at Loki.
"You people claim to be honorable, the beacons of humanity, but deep inside your hearts you desire vengeance and selfish gain," Loki lectured. "You claim to be so very different from me, yet all the while the words you speak right here and now reflect nothing more than the basest craving of humanity: absolute impartiality, all the while backstabbing each other to be king of the mountain. So by all means, execute me. You can hardly become more hypocritical."
"You will not be executed, Loki of Asgard," Elrond said sternly. "Nor will I tolerate your deliberate attempts to provoke those gathered here. Your fate will not be decided by me or anyone here, for you will be returned from whence you came with your brother and without harm. We only want the answer to why you have chosen to cause so much destruction here. You will be allowed to speak your part free of threat, but I caution you to keep a civil and honest tongue."
"Not sure he can do that," Stark muttered, and there was a general murmur of assent that ran through the crowd.
"What reasoning do you have for your actions?" Elrond inquired.
The accused Asgardian remained silent.
"Your plans have failed once again, Brother," Thor said with a shake of his head.
"Yeah. You basically suck at everything you do," commented Stark.
Lord Elrond turned to address the irritating man. "I will only request that you hold your remarks once, Mr. Stark."
"Why do you plot our destruction with such passion?" Thor continued. "What say you, Brother?"
"I have done nothing I regret, and I am not your brother, Thor Odinson."
"Really? No remorse? Like, none?" All eyes stared at Stark. "Yup. Confirmed b******."
"Mr. Stark," Elrond began with a meaningful glower. "You will be removed from these proceedings if you continue to interject your trivial comments."
The billionaire, playboy, philanthropist made a gesture of apology before miming the closing of an invisible zipper over his mouth.
The god of thunder faced the god of mischief, trying to understand. "What have I ever done to make you feel such hatred for me and these people?"
"Odin stole me from my true father who was too ashamed to claim me as his own," Loki began. "You've already seen what I've done to my own blood relations in recompense for their betrayal and weakness. Odin raised me in your shadow as his prize to be played at the exact moment that would best suit his own interests. He claimed we were from the line of kings meant to rule, and yet he still chose you and your arrogance over me. Even when he cast you out, he denied me the throne. He couldn't let a Frost Giant have dominion over Asgard, now could he? And even with your newfound piety, you cause mayhem where ever you step foot."
"I have changed my ways since my first visit to Earth, Brother," Thor returned. "The only destruction I have caused was in light of your exploits."
"Oh yes, the Mighty Avengers," Loki spat in contempt. "I tremble in fear."
"I seem to recall you weren't so cocky after the Hulk broke your face," Stark said, unable to resist. Elrond frowned and considered gesturing to Beorn to remove the man, but ended up throwing his hands in the air. Stark would never change.
"Yeah. I'm not actually sorry about that one," Banner agreed.
"And yet where you be without me?" Loki inquired softly.
"Sipping piña coladas on a white beach with Pepper?" suggested Stark.
A general noise of amusement and/or disgust rippled through the listeners. Loki shook his head.
"Look at yourselves," he said scornfully. "Without me, your world would have been destroyed itself with your misguided experiments on the Tesseract."
"And because of you, our world was nearly destroyed anyway!" Stark shot back, a spark of anger gleaming in his eyes.
Now nearly everyone jumped to their feet and began to argue, but after a moment, Thor's voice rang out above the others.
A tingle of electricity in the air caused everyone to pause and look at the god of thunder. His eyes flashed, and he was gripping his hammer tightly. Clouds had blocked out the sun, lighting threatening to appear. The moment faded quickly though, the protective bubble Merlin had created preventing the god of thunder from unleashing his full power.
"Lord Elrond. Let me speak to my brother alone. This trial is a breeding ground for rash actions and unwise counsel."
Elrond considered this, and then nodded. "It is well spoken. Apparently, this hearing cannot be conducted in a civilized manner. We shall proceed to the celebratory feast Merlin has prepared while you remain here and seek out the root of the matter."
"Feast?" Merlin asked sharply, jumping up nervously.
"You were tasked with its preparation," Elrond confirmed.
"I was busy trying to save them!" Merlin protested, gesturing to the contestants.
"Don't worry, Merlin," a hobbit voice called from the top of the room. "We took the liberty of rustling up some stuff, though we could use a bit of help with the rest."
"Master Elrond," Susan inquired. "Perhaps we could have some time to prepare ourselves before attending this feast, say a half hour?"
The elf Lord nodded wearily. "An excellent suggestion. The feast will begin a half hour." With his final words, everyone save Loki and Thor left the entertainment hall.
When the others had gone beyond hearing, Thor turned to his brother and said, "Now, Loki—I know there is more to this trouble than you still holding a grudge against Father for adopting—yes, kidnapping, if you will have it so—you as a child. You know that I do not think of you as anything but an equal, except that you insist on causing trouble. So what is wrong?"
"Wrong?" Loki scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Have you not noticed anything these past years? Nothing has changed. You, the brash and arrogant one who struts around and wins everyone's heart while they look at me as some lesser being. I deserve as much adoration as you."
His tone was bitter, though, belying his unconcerned expression.
"Are you well, brother?" Thor asked, his thick brows furrowed as he eyed Loki. The dark-haired Asgardian scowled, a bit taken aback.
"What do you mean am I well? Save for being dragged out of an Asgard unwillingly and held prisoner by a bunch of pointy eared—"
"You died!" Thor yelled as he hefted his hammer and smashed it into the dais, his anguish evident. He was remembering how it felt to die (back when he'd been exiled as a mortal on Earth, he had been given a moment to experience death, and had found it both unpleasant and like nothing he would ever have expected). "And this time I saw your body."
Something sharp and painful flashed through Loki's eyes, but so quickly that Thor almost thought he had imagined it.
"And yet here I am," Loki snapped, his voice trembling ever so slightly. "Alive and well."
Thor and Loki stood in silence for a moment—the latter glaring broodingly at the horizon, and the former watching him with clear puzzlement.
"Brother," Thor began, but Loki turned and snarled, "I am not your brother! How many times must we argue the fact that I am not of your blood?"
Thor shook his head. "Your blood does not change our childhood. We were raised together, Loki! Got into trouble, took on adventures, faced difficulties side by side. Listen to me," he grabbed his brother's shoulder and shook him once. "I was harsh to you sometimes in the past, but I never stopped loving you. Never."
Loki would not meet his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words emerged. Thor released him slowly.
"Tell me, Loki," Thor begged. "Help me understand."
"Odin told us long ago that we were both born to be kings. What is a king without a kingdom to rule?"
"There is so much more than that, Brother," replied Thor. He sat down on the first bench row. "And I have you to thank for knowing what a true king is."
Loki took a seat on the edge of the dais, opposite of his brother.
"You were right to get me banished from Asgard for a time, Brother, though I do not think you had that specifically in mind. I was arrogant, selfish, and not fit to be king. My exile showed me that, but I am sorry."
"I gave you my arrogance, Brother."
"How dare you —"
"Please listen to what I have to say," interrupted Thor. Loki relented. "I see in you what you saw in me: arrogance, selfishness, and a desire for power, but that is not what makes a good king, Brother. Arrogance will destroy the kingdom, selfishness your friendships, and power yourself. Even if you finally managed to claim a kingdom of your own, you won't keep it. Another more cunning than you slit your throat in the night or good will find you and take back that which you stole. Remember what father said, 'A wise king never seeks out war, but he must always be ready for it.'
"I don't want to keep fighting you, Brother," Thor finished softly. "Stop searching for a war."
Silence prevailed for several minutes as Loki mulled the words over in his mind.
"You must think I'm a monster," he finally said, lifting his eyes to meet Thor's. He continued, almost wonderingly, "I use magic and words to trick people and twist their minds, but I did not mean to cause death—not this time. Whatever I do—whatever I have ever done—I never fail to cause mischief and discord. Some would say it is not possible for me to be good, that I cannot cross over the line to the side of good."
There was a deep pit of hopelessness behind his eyes. "I will probably be the death of you one day. And do you know—I probably won't regret it. It is my nature, and I cannot deny it. That is what makes me a monster."
Thor's eyes grew moist, and he shook his head. "No, Loki—no! You lie even to yourself! You can choose your side—and you can change your destiny, Brother."
"Your naivety astounds me—."
"No! It your own blind eyes that deceive you. Mischief is not evil unless you take it too far." Thor's eyes were very serious. "You are not so far gone—not yet."
There was another long moment of silence between the brothers, and at last, Loki let out an almost imperceptible sigh.
"'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.'" Loki quoted softly. "It is a lonely and treacherous path I tread."
"Then walk alongside mine, Brother," Thor told him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "While it is not always smooth, I have never found myself walking it alone."
"How do I get there?" Loki asked forlornly.
"I'll draw you a map."
The attitude of the other contestants and companions had lightened once they reconvened for the feast (mostly because everybody was alive, though Susan felt much better mainly because she had finally brushed her hair and gotten all the blasted twigs out). However, the merriment quieted with the Asgardians' entrance. Every eye turned towards the pair who stood at the entry of the banquet balcony. The god of mischief hesitated a moment before stepping forward, his brother remaining behind but close by.
"I won't waste words expressing my regret," Loki began. "I know that I have caused much grief among you, and I cannot honestly say that I am truly sorry for all of it. However, the events of today and my conduct during this competition has brought to light certain flaws I find detrimental to obtaining certain…constructive goals."
Behind him, Thor cleared his throat.
"In short, I call a truce, and with that," again Loki hesitated, "I…apologize." The last two words stuck to his throat like a blob of peanut butter.
"And we're just supposed to believe you?" Hawkeye asked in disbelief. Several heads nodded in agreement.
"Not in the least," Loki answered truthfully. "I am not entirely sure on what side of the line I stand as of this moment, but I swear to you, I will cause no further damage here."
Sensing this was as much progress as they would make, Susan stood and approached Loki with a warm smile.
"Than that is all we ask of you today, Loki of Asgard," she said earnestly.
"I don't buy it," Hawkeye stated flatly. "And I wouldn't trust you with a pile of dirt."
"I trust him," argued Thor. "And I would hope that you have faith in me."
"Oh, we mostly trust your judgment, Point Break," Stark said with a critical stare at Loki. "But we also know his track record. It ain't exactly spotless."
"If Thor trusts him, then so do I," Queen Susan said firmly.
"Agreed," Captain Rogers said, raising his mug in a salute to Thor and Susan. "It may be an old fashion idea, but I think people can change."
"He lied and killed people," Katniss protested.
Susan turned her queenly gaze on the younger woman.
"Yes he did," she said calmly. "And I believe you are also guilty of crimes, yet I, and others, chose to forgive you. Why should we not grant him the same?"
"He doesn't look very sorry," muttered Katniss, a bit of her previous resentment subsiding.
"He has to start from somewhere," came the gentle answer.
Murmurs rippled through the banquet balcony, but the general consensus was that they would give Loki a chance to prove his changing demeanor, though many were still highly suspicious.
"Then it has been decided," Lord Elrond announced once everyone had quieted down. "Do you, Loki of Asgard, swear to restrain yourself from instigating further harm or mischief for the duration of your stay in Rivendell?"
"I do," Loki replied, his feelings rather mixed (but more of them were positive than not).
"Very well. Thor, would you please remove his restraints? Thank you. Now, I would be pleased if both of you join us for the celebratory feast. We were just about to begin."
The meal progressed quite smoothly once the two brothers sat down. Susan, acting graciously in what seemed to be the most natural manner, sat next to Loki as did Captain Rogers and Thor and Merlin. Though the experience was a strange but somewhat nostalgic one, Loki found himself enjoying their camaraderie. It had been quite some time since he had attended a feast or even socialized with decent people, and a part of him wanted to go back to those days before anger had clouded his mind. Perhaps there was hope for crossing back over the line to the light.
During the feast, Loki finally revealed the story of how he got to Rivendell as his true intentions.
It had begun deep within the Asgardian prison that held the god of mischief, where Loki and Thor had been arguing. A pair of impatient and impetuous hobbits had soon entered this scene, and after quickly debating what to do about taking Thor (while hopefully not getting smashed by his hammer) they had ended up taking both the Asgardians with them (through a long train of events that involved Merry getting tangled up in Thor's sandals and Thor getting tripped and grabbing on to Loki).
Because of all the confusion associated with the grabbing of Thor, the two hobbits emerged arguing over whose fault it was they nearly got squashed to death by a mighty hammer and completely missed the fact that they had brought two people instead of just the one. None of the other companions who'd been grabbed and brought to the wood (and who were very, very dazed) noticed the extra guest.
As it happens, Stark and Banner had been on one of the upper floors of Stark Tower examining Loki's staff as a favor to Nick Fury when the hobbits arrived for them, and thus was the staff brought (by an oblivious Banner) into Middle Earth.
Their entrance into Middle Earth also caused Loki some luck in evading notice. When they arrived (in an event reminiscent of a "beaming down" from Star Trek) Loki had the misfortune of entering the city just past the edge of the Council Circle, and instead of tumbling onto the hard floor, fell a few more stories into a nice, deep pool of cold water. Also, during the transition to Rivendell, Banner lost his grip on the staff which somehow skated behind a statue and out of sight. Having not known he had brought it with him from Earth, Banner never realized its absence.
The staff was later retrieved by a wondering (and rather lost) Merlin that night. He had brought it back to show Gaius but it had been late at night, and not wanting to disturb the old man from his sleep, had tossed it into the room he was using as his quarters. The next morning he had not had the time to examine it, nor did he mention it to Elrond as he forgot about it. Indeed, by the time Merlin made it back to his chambers that following night, it was gone. His tired mind hadn't even registered its absence.
Once had the staff, Loki devised his evil (well…mischievous) scheme. He was partially feeling spiteful toward the Avengers (particularly Hawkeye, who alone among the competitors he attacked with unnecessary venom) but mostly wanted to get back to Asgard. The benefit of this goal was that, win or lose in Rivendell, he would always be sent back home. Of course, he did not share this with those at the table with him (mischievous schemes are generally best kept to oneself), but it was in the back of his (somewhat but not entirely reformed) mind.
Everyone (especially Merlin) enjoyed the feast greatly, especially the food which had been gathered and cooked by the hobbits (there were a great many mushrooms in everything, but nobody minded). They all exchanged stories about their various challenges, and Merlin assured everyone that Guams the dragon was now in a better place (though he still didn't have any treasure, being the lazy sort of dragon).
Katniss, after apologizing to everyone she had killed, spent most of her time joking with Merida and Haymitch. The Avengers got along quite nicely with Robin Hood and Much. Gimli and Trumpkin became quite good friends by the end, and Robin Hood got rid of the last of his feelings for Susan who had come to like Captain Rogers quite a bit. They had discovered both were from a similar time on earth, and the bond of having lived during (or rather, through) WWII had sparked a strong connection between them. Although Aragorn and Arwen had left that morning, Boromir returned with many stories of his own to tell (about avoiding arrows and being not-dead, presumably).
The feast continued for several merry hours, which included two dancing hobbits atop the table, but finally the moon had risen, the candles were burning low, and everyone gathered couldn't eat another bite no matter how delicious it smelled or looked.
"So, Mr. Smith," Stark began from far where he sat at the foot of the table. "Are you gonna tell us who won or not?"
Lord Elrond wiped his mouth with a napkin and stood.
"In truth, the score tallies have become quite complicated due to recent events," the elf lord said, nodding to Loki who shrugged unapologetically. "But even with the new scores, only the competitors will be told their individual score."
"What?!" Katniss protested. Several other voices announced their distinct displeasure at the notion.
"Thassss not fair!" yelled Haymitch (happily drunk once more).
Elrond raised his hands to forestall further commentary.
"When this competition was devised, it was mutually agreed that no one would be told any score but their own," Lord Elrond explained calmly. "When you leave this world and return to yours exactly at the time you left it, your memory will be wiped, but something of your visit must remain. That something must be due to the purpose of why you are here."
"So that's what we will remember? Our score? A random number that will make no sense to us?" Hawkeye asked.
"But you could tell us who won and wipe our memory of it," suggested Robin Hood.
"That would contaminate the memory," Elrond replied.
"But how will you tell us our own scores?" Katniss asked in bitter confusion.
"You will know," Lord Elrond answered cryptically.
"Who mutually agreed on this exactly?" Natasha questioned, her head cocked to one side. "And why are you hosting this competition anyway? You never exactly looked thrilled to be here."
The elf lord shifted a bit uncomfortably, hardly noticeable to the untrained eye.
"There was a wager," he finally said.
"I'm loving the flow of communication," said Stark acerbically.
"I am sorry to disappoint all of you," Elrond said with a conciliatory gesture, "but it is now time for all of you to go home. Master hobbits?"
Merry and Pippin jumped up (a bit woozy from all the ale) and saluted.
"Alright," Merry said briskly. "If you want to say any good-byes, now would be the perfect time."
"But you're not going to remember it anyway, so you might as well all link hands," Pippin added with a bit of a hiccup.
Farewells were given all around nonetheless because everyone couldn't help but feel they disparately wanted to hang on to all of the memories they had of the past few days. Finally, everyone stood linked in a circle together with all of the items they had brought from their worlds and none from Middle Earth.
"Be sure to put them back in their proper worlds," Lord Elrond instructed the hobbits with a meaningful stare. The two grinned back at him.
"Don't worry about a thing," Merry said confidently. (For some reason, Elrond still worried).
"We'll be back before ya know it," Pippin said jauntily. (For some reason, Elrond wouldn't have minded if they took their time).
Then the two hobbits put on the yellow rings, and everyone save Lord Elrond, Legolas (who had fully recovered from being mostly dead just before the feast had begun), Gimli, Boromir and Beorn were left. After so many voices and personalities, the Elven city suddenly felt quite empty once more.
The dwarf looked up at Elrond.
"I don't suppose you could tell us who won?" Gimli inquired with a conniving look.
Lord Elrond smiled, picking up his glass of wine and draining it. He rolled the stem between his long fingers and gave the remaining three a knowing look as he told him who had won the First Interworld Archery Competition.
Gimli let out a hearty chuckle, but Legolas only smiled.
A/N: Aaaand, so as to keep you all from being in constant suspense for the rest of your lives…
Legolas won. C'mon guys…he's an elf.
P.S.: Unhappy with the ending and results? Well, write an alternate conclusion with the reasoning behind why that character should have won and send it to us. If we like it, we will post it, so happy writing! (Isn't this fun? It's like a post-contest!)
Acknowledgements: First and foremost, I want to thank everyone who read this crazy creation King Caspian the Seafarer and I concocted. I never thought this tale would last as long as it has, but I feel we have done it proper justice.
I also want to thank KC for joining me on this sixteen week journey across a new ocean filled with a massive main character list of competing personalities. The challenge was faced, and I feel confident we weathered all storms aptly. It was fun riding the waves of pre-existing characters and experiencing their personalities for a change. Some of them were smoother than others, but that is half the fun of writing a fan fiction.
This has been many firsts for me, including my first completed work, first co-authored novel, and first (and only) fan fiction. However, I sense my own characters are getting rather annoyed at my leave of absence (best not to upset them for much longer). As all things do, we have come to the end of this particular voyage with the sight of land, and I must embark on another adventure. Once again, thank you for letting us entertain you. I hope we have made you smile, laugh, and sigh in frustration at some point in our creation.
Oh, and KC is the best, and no, I did not think about the endless nautical puns when I created my nom de plume. Farewell to you all.
KC sayeth: Waves, you better write more fanfiction. You're so darn good at it. :) Anyhow, thanks you SO MUCH to everyone who kept reading and kept reviewing all the way to the end. I enjoyed this ride so much, and am definitely proud of how this story was developed and the final wordcount. Guys. This thing is a MONSTER.
Thank you to our frequent reviewers Lady Dunla, narniagirl11, Eavis, thewayfaringstrangers (Darth Mihi and RandomCelt), Lady of Stormness Mountain, Skiebyrrd, OnlyTheBeginningoftheAdventu re...guys, I wish I could name you all. But I'm too lazy. However, EACH AND EVERY one of your reviews were HEARTILY received and encouraged me (and Waves too) very much indeed. So thanks. :)